September 27, 2016

ZUMBA | This Again

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This past Saturday night, during homecoming weekend, my friends and I were going down to the commons to get some food. Two of us had been studying for a prelim we had on Monday, so we were pretty tired. I had actually forgotten that it was homecoming weekend due to my own amount of stress and other reasons that made me not want to actively participate in this weekend’s festivities. A big reminder I had was when my friends and I saw a group of people in the distance, stumbling and talking very loudly. When we got closer, I could see that the entire group was white and one of them, was wearing a sombrero. They even had an empty bottle of beer in their back pocket and it looked like they were all headed home after a party. It’s easy to assume that I was angry as a result of having to be subjected to this.

This wasn’t even the first time I had seen a white person visibly drunk and walking to/from a party in a sombrero in the past two weeks alone, but I was still angry. I’m not Mexican, but as a Latinx person I am able to see how this hurts a community that I care about and ultimately affects all of those that identify as Latinx. The person I saw Saturday night was using the sombrero as a prop, as something “fun” to wear while partying. Their understanding of the sombrero’s cultural context is questionable and their understanding of how they are disrespecting an entire community is even more questionable.

For them as a white person, it’s cute and probably funny in the context of this past week’s incident, which I’ll address later, but they can take off that hat and they don’t have to walk around with the identity and oppression that it’s tied to. This is just one specific example of microaggressions that Mexicans/Xicanxs/Latinxs are subjected to that makes just existing, especially on this predominantly white campus, difficult. There have been more verbalized acts of microaggressions towards Latinxs this school year that makes acts like walking around in a sombrero even more difficult to stomach. For instance, I was at a party with some of my friends, we’re all Latinx/Xicanxs, and some white person said to another white person that “Mexicans are terrorists,” within earshot of me and my friends. It wasn’t said to us, but was said around us and obviously led to us feeling angry and uncomfortable for the rest of the night. Even if it was intended as a joke, which I don’t think it was, it’s definitely not funny. As microaggressions, these actions cause a certain kind of pain for the community, but are uncomparable to much more violent acts of racism and anti-blackness that occur everyday.

Finally, we get to the incident last week that I had referred to earlier. On Tuesday, September 20, a Cornell Football coach posted pictures of two Cornell football players wearing sombreros to Twitter. Along with the images, the tweet said “Eman & Fosta! THE BIG SOMBRERO!” In the images, there are two white football players wearing a sombrero posted by their white football coach. The original tweet has since been deleted and the coach who posted it has apologized. It was an awful thing that happened, but what made it worse was that the official Cornell University Twitter retweeted it. A Twitter account that has 170,000 followers and is meant to serve as a representation of the university retweeted an image in which an aspect of Mexican culture was being used as a prop, as something “fun” to encourage the football players. It definitely demonstrates Cornell’s attitude towards its students of color and the “diversity issues” we are constantly facing.

Personally, I’m upset that there has been no form of public acknowledgement on the part Cornell Football or Cornell University’s administration. It appears that whenever something terrible is done, the university tries to sweep it under the rug so that it will eventually blow over and the student body will get over it. They are really happy to reach out on a personal basis, which is still important and necessary, but never bring these issues to the campus community’s attention, or at least in a way that brings in those that need to be participating in these discussions. We are handled privately because if it were done publicly it would reflect negatively on the university’s image and no one really cares. Clearly previous methods of handling situations such as this tweet aren’t functioning or else this wouldn’t have happened and I wouldn’t be typing furiously about it. Back in 2013, something similar happened with Cornell Football when they attempted to promote their football game on October 5 by entitling the event “Cinco de Octubre.” That was a more severe case that included encouragement for people to wear their best “Mexican costumes” and other stereotypically racist gestures. I’ve been told that there were follow ups to that incident,  including some kind of sensitivity or diversity training for the football team. If there wasn’t then there definitely should have been.That was only three years ago, so there are probably people still on the football team that went through that experience, making it clear that nothing really changed if no one said anything about the use of the sombrero.

Aside from that whole bureaucratic mess, the comments on a post made by MEChA (Movimiento Estudiantil Chicanx de Aztlán) where the student organization posted a screenshot of the tweet and said “Cornell University who manages your Twitter page?” It was a pretty simple post with a simple question, but instantly some were saying that the people who run the page and those who were commenting on the post were too sensitive and should get over it. There were so many comments that were rude and often made no sense. It was clear that they were made by people who were upset by others saying that this was wrong. Those who were defending the use of the sombrero were ironically “too sensitive” to handle being called out on for doing something that isn’t okay. Another scary aspect of this is how people were completely ignoring the feelings of certain members of a community. If someone in a community is okay with something happening, that doesn’t mean that everyone agrees with that idea. If someone is clearly hurt by something, then those feelings should be respected instead of causing people to lash out.

I didn’t go to homecoming activities this weekend because I didn’t want to support a team or institution that continuously disrespects a specific community. Despite that, I still had to witness this in a completely different situation because it is apparent that people on this campus still do not understand what’s wrong with actions like wearing a sombrero when you’re not of Mexican descent. I’m sure everyone is annoyed and tired of hearing this and I’m really sure that people are tired of saying it. So why am I bringing any of this up? It’s just a hat. Why am I overreacting? Who am I to ruin a person’s fun? I’m not even Mexican, so why do I care? A thrilling summary of comments already said in relation to this issue and the comments yet to have been posted on this column. You’re only making these comments because I’m telling you something isn’t okay and you’re evidently not willing to listen.

Sarah Zumba is a junior in the College of Arts and Sciences. She can be reached at Zumba Works it Out appears alternate Wednesdays this semester.

  • bye

    Firstly, I think you hate white people, and I also think you are a bit too obsessed with yourself. Additionally, the sombrero has origins in — GASP — white European Spain. There are also many white Mexicans who can wear the Sombrero or whatever the heck they want. Actually anyone can wear whatever they want. You don’t get to decide other people’s lifestyles for them.

    Did you even meet the kids you assumed were white? Or did you egregiously stereotype individuals enjoying some de-stressing over a celebratory weekend. You need to get over yourself and maybe go out on Saturday of Homecoming. You clearly aren’t very fun at parties, and maybe you could be if you lightened up a bit.

  • bye

    Also, get a more diverse group of friends.

  • Anti-intellectual

    The concept of cultural appropriation will be considered extremely backwards in a couple years. It has no foundation when analyzed in the context of long-term human history and cultural diffusion. Culture and society would remain stagnant if a historical ethnicity or cultural group was the exclusive owner of any scientific/cultural/technological advancement one or a few members of that group pioneered. It’s ludicrous.

  • George

    Sarah- you are a total moron. Exactly how did you get admitted to Cornell?

    • Bee

      George – thanks for your truly insightful and well-thought question. Perhaps with the time that it took you to write that question, you could’ve went to the local library, picked up a book and learned how to be less of a condescending douche bag instead of trying to bring down somebody that has utilized their time to voice the opinions of people that are disturbed by amount of cultural insensitivity on this campus. Your verbal attacks are completely unwarranted.

      • What

        The only cultural insensitivity on this campus is towards those outside the dominant far left victim culture. Imagine openly supporting Trump at Cornell. You’d probably be shunned and marginalized for the rest of your time here.

        Also, it’s “you could’ve gone.” Maybe you should go “pick up a book,” you condescending douchebag.

  • Burt

    I saw a POC with blue jeans on. Blue jeans were invented by a white man. I was upset for a least a week. I could not attend classes. My bastard professors would not excuse my absences. I am going on a hunger strike.

  • YouAreRacist

    “Some white person”

  • Map for Territory

    “If someone is clearly hurt by something, then those feelings should be respected instead of causing people to lash out.”

    It is dangerous treat people’s emotions and feelings as a valid justification for an argument. It may seem useful and even true when it is a position you agree with, but it opens the floodgates for any number of horrible ideologies to spread. If we make these kind of arguments unassailable than they will be appropriated by racists who will argue, “your ethical argument may be true, but what about how I feel? Why is society discounting that pain?”

    It also dangerous to assign too much significance to the symbols of a culture rather than the values, social norms, and practices that actually make up a culture. Giving too much importance to these symbols makes ethnic identity contingent upon them. So instead of an ethnic identity being an inherent internal truth, it is turned into a commoditized item that can easily be taken away.

  • Jonae Estrada

    What makes you the authority on what hats people are allowed to wear? I am Hispanic, but I’m sure that I would appear “white” to you, does that mean that my choice of hats needs to be approved by some committee of brown people?

  • Bob

    wow just wow ashamed to go to school with a person like you

  • Cornell 2018

    This, again? As a POC at Cornell, I find this type of criticism petulant and ridiculous. Let me ask you this: Did you bother to ascertain that the “entire group of people” you encountered were actually white, or was that an on-the-fly assumption you made based on their appearance alone? Your article makes me think the latter — that, for whatever reason, you automatically stereotyped them as insensitive bigots to feel righteous and justified in your sense of outrage.

    I honestly believe that if you made even the slightest effort to meet the strangers you’re wildly accusing of cultural appropriation and shameless racism, you would realize that there is a big, big world outside of yourself. Many POC in America HAVE faced egregious racial and cultural bias, and your perceived and totally unfounded “microaggression” only serves to diminish the severity of those actual instances of prejudice.

  • Guillermo Arbe

    I am South American and have lived in Peru and also in México. We joke about and make fun of ourselves and each other much more than in the U.S., I believe, and that’s ok. Sometimes we do so by using stereotypes. We accept this goodnaturedly, for the most part (in Peru we call it “tener correa”). The reason, I believe, isthat we tend not to focus on the acts or words but on the intention behind them. If the intention is to insult, then we get insulted. But, if the intention is just to have fun, then that’s ok. The same terms or phrases can be well taken or ill taken depending on the intention behind them. In the case of the sombrero, I was not there to be able to judge the intention. Had I been and if I had deemed the intention was just to have fun and there was no intention to be insulting, I wouldn’t have minded. The sombrero per se is not reason enough to get upset. I think I’m representative of many, if not most, people in South America in this respect. Of course, if the intention was to demean or insult, well, that’s another matter.

  • stfu

    I’m gonna start freaking out when POC wear Aran sweaters…OMG SO OFFENSIVE. Irish microagressions rampant at Cornell

  • CornellAlumni

    Thank you Sarah for having the courage to post your opinion as it is clearly not in line with the dominant group ideology that you’re constantly instructed to comply with on a day to day basis. At the end of the day, not being able to wear the sombrero hat will be at most an inconvenience to your non-Mexican peers. They will not examine the political statement intertwined with the action of wearing the hat because they do not have to. That is their privilege. The richness of opportunities in their lives is not being negatively affected by other people’s clothing decisions whereas we know very well that a POC’s decision to adhere to their culture’s traditional clothing, hairstyle, or communication style will concretely affect their access to opportunities. It is a an issue of power and some people are not ready to talk about the responsibility that comes with that power.
    As a Mexican-American Cornell alumni who is very much in tune with the lack of political and economic power held by my community, I thank you for at least questioning the act and asking people to be critically conscious of what they intentionally or unintentionally do. I promise you that somewhere on campus someone else is thanking you too.